Plodding England grateful to Kane yet again
ENGLAND once again disappointed in victory as manager Gareth Southgate’s men stuttered against Lithuania in their final competitive match before next summer’s World Cup.
Qualification for the finals in Russia had been wrapped up with a game to spare, but there was only a modicum of positivity surrounding the Three Lions after Thursday’s ponderous performance against Slovenia.
Southgate shouldered the responsibility and hoped to make amends with an entertaining display against Lithuania, yet Harry Kane’s first-half penalty was the only moment to celebrate as England won by a single goal against the side ranked 120th in the world.
The main enjoyment for the travelling hordes were the struggles of old foes Scotland in Slovenia, while they resorted to irony by likening England’s play to watching Brazil – next month’s opponents at Wembley after world champions Germany’s visit.
Those friendlies could make for grim viewing from an England perspective unless things drastically improve from this week, with captain Kane’s performances among few genuine positives.
The 24-year-old striker made it 15 goals in his last 10 matches for club and country by slotting home what proved to be the firsthalf winner after Dele Alli won a penalty.
The pair’s Tottenham teammate Harry Winks showed promise on his senior debut, but the three-man defence clearly needs work given the number of times goalkeeper Jack Butland was worked as an unbeaten Group F campaign ended limply.
England’s travelling hordes gave polite applause at the end, with many fans still bedecked in ponchos as rain fell for the majority of the night in Vilnius.
Unfortunately, the Three Lions’ display was as drab as the weather in the first half as an experimental side dominated possession without the necessary bite.
Things could have been different had debutant Harry Maguire – former Sheffield United and Hull City centre-half – connected with an early header, but it was Lithuania who took the greater risks in pushing for an opener.
Arvydas Novikovas was proving a nuisance and Darvydas Sernas nearly capitalised on a defensive slip, going close from left-back Vytautas Andriuskevicius’s fine cross.
Butland, making his second competitive appearance at the venue of his first, comfortably held on to a strike by Ovidĳus Verbickas, the player guilty of gifting England a 27th-minute lead.
Michael Keane’s snapshot wide was a warning shot that appeared to rattle Lithuania momentarily, with Verbickas downing Alli in the box.
In-form Kane stepped up to fire home the resulting penalty, hitting a fierce, low shot out of Ernestas Setkus’s reach and in off the inside of the left-hand post.
The England captain saw another attempt blocked, before debutant Winks played a quick pass down the line for Marcus Rashford.
The Manchester United forward showed quick feet and got away an effort that called Lithuania’s goalkeeper into action.
Butland appeared to get a touch on a fine Fedor Cernych half-volley that rippled the net- ting as an underwhelming first half came to an end.
Winks showed composure to jink into space and test Setkus when play resumed after the break, only for Butland to be forced into a fine one-handed save to prevent Keane turning into his own goal in the 55th minute.
Sernas was unable to provide a finishing touch when Lithuania had attempts of their own.
Alli flashed over at the end of a well-worked move that was followed by chants of ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’.
Scotland’s issues – a 2-2 draw in Slovenia ultimately ended their qualification hopes – were also providing amusement the fans.
Setkus clawed away Aaron Creswell’s goalbound header from a Jordan Henderson cross, and Kane dragged just wide of the Lithuania goal as England pushed for a second.
Alli headed well wide and substitute Daniel Sturridge fash- for HARRYING KANE: ioned himself a late chance, only to strike into the side-netting.
Substitute Deivydas Matulevicius had England hearts in mouths when running through only to shoot straight at Butland, with Sturridge glancing wide and seeing a close-range effort blocked before full-time.
Harry Kane duels with Lithuania’s Linas Klimaviciu before scoring England’s winner from the spot.